F1 slumps to lowest UK audience of modern era

After a promising start to the 2018 season, Formula 1’s UK audience figures crashed through the floor during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race aired across Sky’s dedicated F1 channel, and their Main Event channel. Main Event were meant to join Sky F1 at 17:30, however this was pushed back to 19:05 as England’s cricket ODI with Scotland overran.

Sky Sports F1’s broadcast from 18:00 to 21:30 averaged 704k (4.2%), an identical figure to 2017, and an increase on 2016’s figure of 620k (2.9%).

What hurts Sky is that their Main Event simulcast performed poorly. An audience of 120k (0.7%) watched the simulcast, compared with 234k (1.1%) in 2016 and 259k (1.4%).

The combined average audience for the live broadcast was 787k (4.7%), down 18.3 percent on 2017’s average of 962k (5.2%), and a slightly smaller drop compared with 2016’s figure of 853k (4.0%).

It is likely that ITV’s Soccer Aid took away some of the floating casual audience that would have tuned into Sky’s F1 broadcast. The charity match averaged 3.86m (21.2%) across a three and three-quarter hour slot for the free-to-air broadcaster.

The race broadcast on Sky peaked with 1.30m (6.8%) at 20:40 as Sebastian Vettel won the Grand Prix, a dip compared to their 2016 and 2017 peaks of 1.41m (6.3%) and 1.47m (7.0%) respectively.

It should be noted that the total television audience dropped compared with previous years, but I would have expected Formula 1 to hold up better and to increase its share in this situation, as live sport tends to do.

Channel 4’s highlights programme struggled, averaging just 856k (12.2%) from 22:40 to 00:40, a decrease on both 2016 and 2017’s average audiences of 1.30m (15.3%) and 970k (11.6%) respectively.

The time slot for all three years was broadly the same, so the scale of the drop is somewhat shocking. Channel 4’s show peaked with 1.26m (14.7%) at 23:10 as the highlights edit started.

The combined average audience of 1.64 million viewers is the lowest average audience in the modern era for a Formula 1 race in the UK dating back to at least 2005.

Realistically, you probably need to go back to the days when the BBC did not air some races live in the mid-1990s, which makes Canada’s number a near 25 year low for the sport in the UK.

Compared with 2017, the combined average audience is down 15.0 percent (1.93m), and down 23.7 percent on 2016 (2.15m).

To show the scale of the problem for Canada, the combined peak audience of 2.56 million viewers is 300,000 viewers lower than the average audience from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying aired on Sky Sports F1 from 18:00 to 20:35, averaging 345k (2.7%), a slight bump on last year’s figure of 342k (2.2%).

Channel 4’s highlights suffered in a late-night time slot, averaging 614k (7.9%) from 22:55 to 00:25. Sky’s live coverage peaked with 684k (4.8%), compared with Channel 4’s peak audience later in the evening of 780k (9.5%).

The combined average audience of 960,000 viewers is the lowest for a Saturday qualifying session since the late 2000’s, and the lowest for Canada since 2006.

The above set of numbers do not include Sky Go, Now TV or All 4, which will increase total volumes slightly. However, even including them is not changing the fact that all the numbers are frankly abysmal and a new low for the sport in this country, an especially poor number coming off what has been a positive start to 2018 for Formula 1.

Canada has had a few problems, the main one being that the free-to-air highlights have aired in a graveyard time slot when not aired live since 2012. The problem was exacerbated this past weekend, with Channel 4 prioritising live rugby coverage over highlights of F1 weekend.

However, the fact also that Sky’s television audience is not improving with 2019 fast approaching should be a clear message to Liberty Media that viewers are unwilling to tune into Sky’s pay-TV broadcasts of Formula 1 in large volumes.

It is a problem that needs to be addressed and tackled, one way or the other. Time is ticking…

The 2017 Canadian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.



18 thoughts on “F1 slumps to lowest UK audience of modern era

  1. I think this is what we need in order for them to really react and address the problems in the sport that need fixing. I know they’re doing a couple of things next year but I think they need to revert to the narrower cars and tyres. Keep the lower and wider rear wing. Keep the racey tyres. That race was also abysmal. So boring. Even an extra DRS zone did nothing.

    The track isn’t the best, but if you did a Formula E race there, you’d probably get the best race you’ve ever seen.

  2. A fairly grim picture for the popularity of the sport in this country. The entertainment on the track has been non existent for the last two races but it’s to be expected during an F1 season that back to back races fail to cause much highlight – Vettel’s comments noting that you should expect bad races and good races just like in football were bang on and it has been that way for ever in f1 regardless of the white noise surrounding the technical rulebook etc. For my money we’ve had more or less 50/50 in terms of good races and bad races this season.

    What I can’t abide by is the denial surrounding the whole broadcast model. Somehow a false narrative has developed that says viewers are being turned away because of the ‘lack of action’ on track as opposed to being displaced by extortionate paywalls and a lack of access. And no – 20 second clips on behalf of the official f1 Twitter feed does not count as ‘access’ no matter what Sean Bratches may think!

    In the meantime, thanks once again for your terrific work in keeping this blog running. It becomes more and more relevant by the week.

  3. After cancelling my Sky subscription as I cant justify the cost I have been watching on C4 via freesat (which is now only in SD since the HD channel has now gone!). I cant really watch the races live now because of the new time slots interfering with family life etc so for me to continue watching in 2019 I need some kind of Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) service or FTA highlights available on Freesat. Now TV just doesn’t do it because its Now or Never TV!. No pause on my apple tv app and no re-runs at a time I could watch them. Sky Q has all the races available to download so its on their servers they just wont make it available to their customers on demand. This will encourage people to walk away from the sport (which I will do without SVOD) or resort to piracy. A Now TV sports pass with catchup on demand races would be enough to save Formula 1 for me but they dont seem willing to do it.

    I did enjoy the Formula E race though…watched practice and qualifying live and recorded the race for a tea time watch. With the cars being slower and not aerodynamically sensitive it was very enjoyable watching Lucas di Grassi pass his way from 5th to the lead of the race. Formula E is already getting more of my attention now than Formula 1 does but ill still be watching C4 highlights mostly on the Monday morning before work but after this season it looks like I wont be watching.

    F1 TV Access does offer 30 min highlights after the race but its full of spoilers! Video preview picture for Spanish GP showed the drivers on the podium and now after the race directly below the large replay picture and button it shows the top 3 in text below when you scroll to get to the highlights so thats no good for me either. I gave them feedback about this but its been ignored other than being thanked for being an awesome fan. Well this is one awesome fan who watched every race since 97 who will be walking away until we get FTA back or a fair priced SVOD service without spoilers.

  4. F1 will suffer, more I think than they might think, from no live terrestrial coverage from next year.

    And yes, lots more people are watching Formula E at the tracks – impressive!

  5. As 2019 draws closer the debate on viewing figures and Sky’s exclusive deal is going to get very intense. Particularly I think by the fact that fans in most other countries will be able to watch a 3 day GP via the new OTT Liberty package, at what seems a reasonable price of around £8. Sky’s offering, whether it’s via their sports package or Now TV, includes many other sports, which makes it just too expensive for most fans. If only they could match the OTT offering with a 3 day F1 only package, they might get some takers. Currently a 3 day package via Now TV would cost you 3 x £7.99, which I think illustrates my point quite clearly. Another example of their high costs is to compare it with the WEC App for Le Mans. For just £8.99 you get 2 days of practice/qualifying, totalling 10 hours and then the whole of the 24 hour race with no adverts.

  6. I watched the US coverage of Canada on the free-to air ABC network on Sunday, and was shocked to discover the entire race was completely uninterrupted by adverts! It was a simulcast of the UK Sky coverage (in HD, starting from about 40 mins before lights out, not sure when it ended as I had to stop watching after the podium). Apparently they also showed a 2hr 30min replay show of Monaco a few hours after that race finished, and are going to have another 3 races live FTA this season. If ABC do the same next year, incredible to think the US will get four live FTA races and the UK only one! The last time I watched a race on US TV it was the 2016 British GP on NBCSN, and although the programme was decent, it was spoiled by the massive amount of ads during the race, so this Sunday was a very pleasant surprise. I wonder if there has been much change in the US viewing figures now they are getting Sky’s coverage rather than a home-grown show? As ever, keep up the great work on the blog!

    1. US Viewing figures so far

      Australia: 175,000 viewers, down 26% from last year (238K), down 21% from 2016 (222K), and the smallest audience for the race in at least five years.

      Bahrain: 683,000 viewers on ESPN2, up 65% from last year on CNBC (413K) and up 18% from 2016 on NBCSN (578K). Most-watched F1 race on US cable television since the 2012 USGP on Speed (688K).

      China: 284,000 viewers on ESPN2, down 1% from last year on NBCSN (287K).

      Azerbaijan: 536,000 viewers on ESPN2, down 10% from last year (536K) and down 6% from 2016 (569K).

      Spain: 499,000 viewers, down 10% from last year (557K). Compared to 2016, ratings increased 2% (487K).

      Monaco: 809,000 viewers on ESPN, the largest F1 audience on a US cable network since the 1995 Italian GP (876K). 1.6 million viewers on ABC following the Indy 500. Combined, viewership for the live and encore telecasts increased 40%from last year (live NBC + encore NBCSN).

  7. I have to agree with Peter – The 2019 elephant in the room is not going to be the technical rule book, it IS the Sky deal.

    There is a certain shadenfreude in the collapse in ratings as the Bernie/Murdoch deal looms – if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the sport I love. I only hope that Liberty have the sense (and deep pockets) to tear up or re-negotiate the Sky deal. I cannot imagine that sponsors are going to keep advertising with teams, on the trackside, or sponsor drivers if viewer levels dwindle at this rate.

    No HD C4 on Freesat is another issue that should not be ignored, along with the price gouging that Sky specialise in.

    Come on Liberty, open your eyes!

  8. Thanks for the blog.

    I’m watching closely, as a ex-F1 fan. I can’t believe in 2011, me and my wife sat and watched the hours and hours of coverage all Sunday afternoon and into the evening on the BBC. At one point even when Brundle and Coulthard were commenting on a duck in a puddle whilst we waited for the GP to restart. Those were the days, eh? The racing wasn’t bad either.

    Those days are long gone, neither of us are interested anymore, without every race broadcast free to air, there is no way of watching the stories develop over the season and the excitement of watching the championship contenders fight it out throughout the season. It’s not part of our lives anyway, I used to always iron my work shirts during the race. As it was a regular thing it was easy to get into a routine. With a mix and match of live races and some highlights, there is no routine.

    I’m amazed that North American sports are being allowed to muscle in. I admit I’m becoming a huge baseball fan, why is that? It’s free on youtube, extended highlights, each team plays everyday so there is massive amounts of contents. And it’s not too bad once you know the rules. But how about American Football? Games in London, the superbowl live on the BBC. I don’t think you need to be a media expert to realise what is going to be successful in the longterm.

    1. Sadly, Stephen, I think you’re right. I can see that my interest has waned, maybe because of the sporadic nature of live and late-slot highlights. If viewers can’t follow all races its becomes less of a season long campaign and more one of individual races/battles. F1 may win the short term financial battle, but motorsport could well lose the war for long term viewers.

  9. If the current schedules are correct, and next weekend’s French GP race highlights on C4 are after 10pm, then expect a further drop in audience figures.

    I don’t understand why C4 would do that. There is just a film and some property shows on in the afternoon and evening. Qualifying is on at 6:30pm.

    1. Maybe the joint Sky/C4 deal has some sort of embargo. Perhaps C4 can’t show race highlights until a set time after the race finishes.

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